A conservation officer in Canada has won a lengthy legal battle after being fired for refusing to kill two bear cubs.
A judge in British Columbia ruled this week that disciplinary proceedings surrounding Bryce Casavant, a former conservation officer with the British Columbia Ministry of Environment, were handled improperly.
“It nullifies what’s happened,” Casavant told Global News. “Legally speaking, it’s like [the dismissal] never happened.”
Casavant was suspended without pay and ultimately fired in 2015. He had defied instructions to kill black bear cubs whose mother had been found eating garbage and raiding a freezer.
His supervisor ordered him to kill the entire bear family “on the basis that they had become habituated to human food,” court documents said. He killed the mother but did not kill the 8-week-old cubs since they had not been seen eating garbage, and there was no evidence they had become habituated to humans.
Instead, he tranquillized them and brought them to a veterinarian. The cubs later transferred to a wildlife rehabilitation facility and were ultimately released back into the wild.
Casavant was fired over not following orders and began a lengthy legal battle to fight the decision.
This week, the British Columbia Court of Appeal ruled that disciplinary proceedings surrounding Casavant’s case should have been handled in accordance with the province’s Police Act. Casavant argued that as a special constable appointed under the act, it was his right to make the final decision about whether or not to use a firearm.
The judge did not rule that Casavant must be reinstated in his former job, writing instead that she would “leave the parties to sort out the consequences” of her decision.
Animal law expert Rebeka Breder told The Star that the decision could make a big difference in future cases where officers believe it’s wrong to kill animals.
“It took a lot of guts to do what he did,” she said. “In the bigger picture, the ruling sets a precedent that conservation officers could stand up to supervisors against kill orders when it is appropriate to do so.”